Linux 2.6.31 Accelerates Performance

Linux is gaining support for new hardware — particularly USB 3.0 devices — and a new performance subsystem, courtesy of the newly released Linux 2.6.31 kernel.

The release is the third Linux kernel release of the year and follows the 2.6.30 kernel, which came out in June.

Chief among new hardware features is the addition of support for the USB 3.0 specification, which is the next generation of USB. For Linux’s backers, the addition is a key one.

“From my personal viewpoint, the USB 3.0 support is great to see,” Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman told “It’s nice to see Linux support the latest hardware functionality before any other operating system again. We had USB 2.0 and Bluetooth support before any other operating systems as well.”

The USB 3.0 specification, which has been under development by Intel since 2007, offers speeds of up to 4.8 gigabits per second.

Overall Linux performance will also get a boost in the new kernel, thanks to the performance counter subsystem known as “perf”.

“It will help kernel developers, and other developers, properly determine places where code needs to be changed, and also help out in figuring bottlenecks in how systems are set up to hopefully allow them to be resolved,” Kroah-Hartman said. “It’s very easy to use, and is quite nice to see happen.”

The previous 2.6.30 kernel included improvement to boot times, which is something that is further improved in the new 2.6.31 kernel Kroah-Hartman noted that with the additional boot speed enhancements, his Moblin-based netbook can now boot the kernel in less than a second.

“It’s faster to shut the machine down and bring it up again than it is to suspend it to disk, which is a very nice change to have,” Kroah-Hartman said.

Storage performance also benefits from the new kernel. An Oracle spokesperson explained to that RAID arrays and SSD storage can perform significantly better when I/O operations are properly sized and aligned to the device.

The spokesperson added that the 2.6.31 Linux kernel includes changes from Oracle developers allowing both the kernel and applications to determine the most efficient I/O parameters for each storage device.

Another key technology that is part of the 2.6.31 kernel is the Btrfs next-generation Linux filesystem.

Btrfs development is led by Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) developer Chris Mason. Though the mainline Linux kernel now includes many Btrfs components, Oracle does not yet consider it ready or production use.

“Linux kernel 2.6.31 includes some dramatic performance improvements and new features for Btrfs,” the Oracle spokesperson said. “More improvements are scheduled for 2.6.32 at which time, Btrfs will be ready for larger beta trials.”

Despite key additions like USB 3.0, perf and Btrfs, the bulk of the 2.6.31 kernel changes is actually made up of new drivers, expanding the hardware support available to Linux users.

“Over 70 percent of all of the 2.6.30 to 2.6.31 patch is under drivers, and there’s another 6 percent-plus in firmware and sound,” Linux founder Linus Torvalds wrote in a mailing list posting.

“That’s not entirely unusual, but it does seem to be growing,” he added. “My rough rule of thumb used to be ’50 percent drivers, 50 percent everything else,’ but that’s clearly not true anymore and hasn’t been for a while — we’ve been 60 percent-plus since after 2.6.27.”

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